Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘guilt’


Sometimes “life” just gets in the way of all good intentions.

A few years ago I read Antinomianism by Mark Jones and when discussing the doctrine of assurance he mentioned Anthony Burgess (the Puritan, not the author of A Clockwork Orange). While reading The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson the subject and Burgess came up again in the footnotes. So I bought a copy of recently released version of Faith Seeking Assurance (FSA) by Burgess in the Puritan Treasures for Today.

While I finished reading the book in December, I went on vacation and returned to a crazy schedule that included preparing for a church trial, and presbytery meeting. I came down with “the” cold (I’m still coughing 4 weeks later), experienced a pastoral crisis or two, helped interview a church planter and we hosted a financial seminar. I think I am returning to normalcy and this review is still waiting for me.

That is how my brain works. I need to clear this out so I can move on to the next review of a book I just finished.

The doctrine of assurance is one of those neglected doctrines these days. Recently we’ve seen a spat of books about the Trinity and union with Christ which had been neglected for a long time. Maybe this doctrine will experience a literary resurgence. But until then … we pretty much have this book. Thankfully it is a very good book, but since I just worked thru this subject in the Westminster Standards for a SS class- there is more to be said.

FSA is a typically Puritan book in its style and structure. If you aren’t familiar with the Puritans, one way to describe them would be a dog with a bone, chewing, chewing, chewing. I’d say a cow chewing its cud, but that sounds too “gentle”. Perhaps another way of putting it is drilling down deep into a doctrine, looking at it from a variety of angles.

“… ecclesiastical discipline being to the church what the sword is to the Commonwealth.”

The assurance of which we speak is assurance as a reflex action- the assurance that we are saved by knowing we have believed and depend upon the merit of Christ. As a direct action, faith believes that God actually saves sinners. In this way, following Calvin, assurance is an element of faith.

“In his reflex acts of faith, the confidence that a believer has of the truth of grace wrought in him comes more from God’s Spirit removing his slavish fears and disposition and supporting the soul than it does from the excellence and beauty of grace within him.”

He begins with the necessity of assurance by bringing us to Corinth and Paul’s letters to them. Professing Christians can be quite content in their lusts. Paul advised them to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith rather than continue to exhibit presumption. In this way we differ from Roman Catholicism in which only those who receive a secret revelation can have such knowledge (think the saints, not ordinary Christians). But Scripture indicates we can know, and God generally wants His children to know that they are in fact saved.

Its advantage is likened to the man who has actually tasted honey and knows its sweetness experientially instead of simply theoretically. It provides a security in affliction, rather than a false security in our guilt. It also helps us to enjoy the sweetness of the sacraments, ceasing from useless arguments with others and focusing on your own heart (warning: we can be overly introspective however, and we are supposed to be looking outward to Christ who is our salvation), focusing on obedience and service. What gets in the way? He notes self-love, carnal confidence and the temptation to unbelief. We can also use false standards to determine whether or not we are saved.

“… some Christians rest in knowing the doctrine of the gospel and in the outward use of ordinances without ever feeling the weight of sin.”

From these introductory matters he spends time addressing the reality of hypocrites. Some have an historical faith: “They have the kind of historical faith that the devils possess. It is no real faith at all, but, at most, only a human assent.” There is intellectual agreement of a sort, but no resting in Christ. There are also those, like in the parable of the sower, who are temporary believers. They are part of the visible church, seem to be filled with joy, but eventually return to their sin and unbelief.

True Christians: “These Christians are incorporated into Christ’s body and so receive a vivifying influence from Him as a living branch in the vine or a living member in the body.”

One of the more interesting obstacles to gaining assurance that Burgess mentions is that we can resist the ministry of the Spirit to provide it. The basic notion is that the flesh resists all motions toward holiness, and all reception of spiritual blessings. Other obstacles are guilt over sins committed, temptations experienced and the Evil One who wants to destroy the joy of our salvation since he can’t actually destroy our salvation.

This means a believer may actually be saved, but not have assurance. They may have doubts and fears. But gaining assurance gives us greater peace and joy in our salvation.

Thomas Goodwin spoke of a father and son walking on the road. The father picks up the son, holds him and kisses him. The son was just as much his son when he was standing by the father, or even running from him. But his experience of being a son was better, more nurturing when the father held and kissed him. Assurance is like being held and kissed, our experience of salvation is sweeter. But we may still be saved even when we don’t experience this.

Burgess provides remedies for carnal confidence and directions for those who lack assurance. While God generally wants us to have assurance, it is not all He wants for us. He also wants us holy and humble. If assurance will make you proud or slothful at a given point in time, God may choose to withhold assurance for this greater good.

“We should not so gaze upon ourselves to find graces in our hearts that we forget those acts of faith whereby we immediately close with Christ and rely upon Him only for our justification.”

Assurance starts with the simple question, do you believe in Christ? If you don’t you have no ground for assurance. In seeing if you truly believe or have a counterfeit faith (see Edwards’ Charity and Its Fruits), you look to sanctification and whether common graces are at work in you. You aren’t looking for perfection, but progress. And in this someone else may help for often we see the sin, not the progress. In terms of common graces, is there a desire for worship, prayer, Bible reading, fellowship etc. These are faith at work. The desire for them is a work of the Spirit. The one who has never and doesn’t currently desire them has no grounds for assurance. There can be dry spells, and during them we generally don’t have assurance.

This is not a perfect book. It is a good and worthwhile book. For those who are not familiar with the Puritans, there is a learning curve. There is much to discover here, but I did find myself wanting more when I was done. Sadly, I can’t recall exactly what that more was. At this time, this and the chapters in The Whole Christ are the primary works on this important and often misunderstood subject.

 

Read Full Post »


I left off my discussion of the law and Calvin on the verge of talking about the uses of the law in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, the Essentials Edition.

The first function of the law is to convince us of sin. The law comes to us as sinners, and reveals us as sinners. Fundamentally, it reveals the righteousness of God but then necessarily exposes our own unrighteousness. We tend to be blind to our sin. We easily recognize other people’s sin, particularly when we are hurt by other people. But sin has corrupted our hearts, and the law of God written there. As a result we struggle to accurately discern right from wrong. As sinners, we also struggle to see ourselves as we really are. So God gave us the law to address this great need in us.

“For man, who is otherwise blinded and drunk with self-love, must be compelled to recognize and confess both his weakness and impurity.”

We are used to our evil desires. Sin also seeks to deceive us, posing as righteousness through our fear and pride. The law sheds light on the situation, helping us to see through the lies we’ve believed. It reveals that we really are guilty and should feel guilty.

God is not trying to make us miserable, for misery’s sake. “For we know that he never tires of doing good to us, and always heaps blessing upon blessing.” So this knowledge of self thru the law is really for our good, should we repent and believe. The misery is meant to promote our repentance when we see the mercy of God in the gospel. “His purpose, then, is that men, renouncing all belief in their own strength, should acknowledge that it is only his hand that sustains them…”.

Ultimately, of course, we are blessed only in (union with) Christ. “In Christ, however, his face shines upon us full of grace and sweetness, despite the fact that we are poor, unworthy sinners.” Exposed as weak & sinful, we are also driven to Jesus to gain life and contentment. This doesn’t happen without the law.

The second function is to restrain sin. Some people live in fear of punishment. You know, they slow down when they see a police car. The law, which includes sanctions, discourages sin in most people. This is not the same as obedience, since it is driven by slavish fear of punishment, not by faith and gratitude with an eye toward the glory of God. Shame and fear make society more peaceable, but they are not what God’s is aiming for, which is conformance to Christ who obeyed the Father out of love (for Him and us).

As a pastor and parent, there are times I am glad that some sin is restrained in the lives of my congregation and children. I’d rather the congregation, family and individuals involved not have to suffer the consequences of sin. I’m okay with someone avoiding sexual sin out of fear of pregnancy, STDs etc. For awhile. I would like to move them to faith, hope and love as motives for obedience. All things in due time.

The third, and controversial, use of the law is to encourage obedience in Christians. The power of obedience is the Holy Spirit, not the law. The law provides direction: this is what pleases God. The law provides promises to encourage. Sadly, when this is discussed, people opposed to the 3rd use of the law hear us saying that law has power to enable obedience. Reformed teachers don’t say this, but point to the Spirit. Here’s Calvin, “believers whose hearts are already ruled and quickened by God’s Spirit.” It is the Spirit who, in fulfillment of the New Covenant promise, writes the law on our hearts. Further, “led by the Holy Spirit they are moved by the wish to obey” which is also promised in the New Covenant. While we see law and grace as opposing principles with regard to justification, they are not with regard to sanctification. They work together! The law provides direction to grace. Grace provides desire and power to fulfill the law. Meditating on the law (think Psalm 119) is used by the Spirit to stir us toward obedience, “to persevere in obedience and to turn away from his faults.”

We are still burdened with the flesh, which resists obedience. So each of us needs the law to “be a constant goad to him, to stop him growing sleepy or dull.”

Calvin then begins to defend his position. Some people, and theological systems, “rashly reject Moses and would have us ignore the law.” He asserts that we are not bound by random rules and principles, if we want to be holy, but the permanent and unchanging moral law which is a reflection of God’s righteous character. Paul asserts as much in 2 Timothy 3. The OT, which was the Scriptures he was referring to, is usefulĀ  to admonish, rebuke, correct and train the righteous man for good works.

“In urging upon us the perfection to which it calls us, it shows us the goal at which we should aim our lives. Provided we persevere in that aim, that is enough. Our whole life is like a race; when we reach its end the Lord will bless us by letting us reach the goal we presently pursue, even though we are still a long way off.”

Calvin argues that the curse of the law, not the law itself, was abrogated by Christ. The Christian is no longer, or should no longer, be fearful of God because Christ has borne the curse for us. We have been adopted as sons, and have the Spirit of sonship not the spirit of slaves. Justified, we are at peace with God and our subsequent sins do not destroy that peace purchased by Christ if we are truly united to Christ. Jesus changes our relationship to the law.

Part of the law, or a type of law, has been abrogated. The ceremonial law has not only fulfilled, but our attempts to keep it are a winding back of redemption. Our redemption’s goal is to make us like Jesus in character, which is reflected in the law. The ceremonial law addresses guilt and pollution, the very things Jesus removed through His propitiation on the cross. To still obey that part of the law (offering sacrifices) is to say that the work of Jesus did not deal with our guilt and pollution. Those Mosaic sacrifices did not really remove their guilt and pollution, but were provisional in nature until the Son came to actually remove our guilt and pollution, and to prepare God’s people for that time.

“Such observances obscured his glory once the gospel had been revealed.”

Read Full Post »


No one likes to feel shame, even if it is such a regular part of their existence that they are “used” to it. Shame is one of those things we don’t like to talk about unless we are trying to put it on others: “you should be ashamed of yourself” or “have you no shame?”.

I’m sure a book on shame is a hard sell. I mean, who wants to think about their shame? But Shame Interrupted is about “how God lifts the pain of worthlessness and rejection.” This is a worthwhile goal. This is a worthwhile, if uneven book.

At its best this book does two things. First, it gets you to think about your life. Many times I thought of instances where shame was put on me, or lifted from me or I struggled with my shame. Second, it gets you to look at Christ who bore our shame so we don’t have to bear it any more.

Years ago, for a counseling course, I’d compared and contrasted two different books on dealing with sexual abuse. Both were good at describing the ways in which it affects us, but only one really focused on the gospel and its implications for the sexually abused. If I’d had time this week, I would have gone back to another book I read years ago on shame to compare & contrast. I may yet do this very thing. But Ed Welch focuses on the gospel and its implications for your shame.

“Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated.”

There you have it. Welch begins by explaining shame and giving examples from the lives of his counseling clients. Some people just give in to the shame allowing it to define and control who they are. Others fight the shame, often with the wrong weapons. Good grades, a nice car, attractive spouse or celebrity status won’t remove our shame. Shame is like acid, and unless you place a base on it the acid will continue to burn you.

He also compares and contrasts guilt and shame. They are often produced by the same events yet they are quite different. Guilt has to do with the language of the courtroom. It says “you have done something wrong, and you must pay.” Shame has to do with the language of the community. It says “there is something wrong about you and we don’t want anything to do with you.” Guilt is about the wrongness of an action while shame is about the wrongness of a person. When we sin we often feel both guilt and shame. We have done wrong and there is something profoundly wrong with us. As a result we withdraw, feeling unworthy of the love of another.

When someone does something wrong to us we may feel guilt, false or illegitimate guilt. We didn’t do anything wrong. But we will feel shame. Victims may falsely blame themselves, but the guilt lies with the victimizer. Shame, however, now belongs to both. Shame, therefore, is even more commonplace than guilt. It is powerful, often like solitary confinement, above and beyond the general population prison cell of guilt.

Shame can often lead to greater sin. Addicts, who are often buckets of shame, often continue to sin because they “deserve it.” I do not mean entitlement but a sense of I am a pig and belong in the mud. Addictions can relieve the pain of shame, but also function as the validation or just consequences. We think “I am a horrible person, and I don’t deserve happiness.” In this way we see the self-destructiveness of shame as a person ruins whatever good there is in their lives. In some cases, profound shame can drive someone to suicide, the ultimate in self-destruction. So ministry to them should include both guilt AND shame, not one or the other.

Welch writes of how the Bible talks about shame under the term uncleanness. This is the idea that sin pollutes us. Disease also pollutes us, and the unclean person is isolated from the rest of the community so no one “gets it.” This is a frequent subject in Scripture and we often overlook it as some antiquated idea when it really is just about our frequent, persistent experience of shame.

Christ, the sin bearer, not only removed our guilt but our shame. Part of the promise of the new covenant in Ezekiel 36 is that we would be sprinkled clean, our pollution would be removed. The blood of Christ deals with our guilt and shame, not one or the other.

Since shame is about association too, Welch brings us to our union with Christ. Associated with Him, we receive His glory. Our identity shifts in Christ so the shame associated with the old man in Adam has been lifted and we’ve been given alien honor just as we have received alien righteousness.

In the Gospels we see that Jesus often touched unclean people. This is exactly what you were not supposed to do because it made any mere mortal unclean. But Jesus was not a mere mortal. As the God-man Jesus was not overcome by their uncleanness but their uncleanness was removed. Everything was upside down because Jesus came to reverse the curse.

This is a lengthy book at about 300 pages. Not all of it connected to me, particularly in the middle. However, in light of the pervasiveness and power of shame this is a very important book. Even if you don’t struggle with shame your spouse, kids or congregants will. We should want to understand their struggle and be able to point them to the One who can break the self-destructive cycle of shame. In the process, however, you might find that shame plays a bigger role in your life than you ever realized.

One of the rare aspects of Welch’s work is that he sometimes includes discussion of the sacraments as how God changes us. This book is no different. I wish he’d gone deeper into the subject. It is unfortunate that we don’t see many discussions of the sacraments from a Reformed perspective, as means of grace meant for our growth in Christ. So we have to take it when we can.

One word of caution, I suppose. People struggling with shame may not want to read this until they are ready. We are odd people. The right medicine at the wrong time can magnify the problem by hardening hearts. So be gentle with those struggling with shame. Learn to recognize and respect what boundaries they do have because those boundaries may be all that keeps them in relationship to you.

Read Full Post »


In the book blurbs C.J. Mahaney (please don’t make DeYoung guilty by association based on what you think or suspect Mahaney has done) notes:

“I’m sure this will be the best book on the Heidelberg Catechism I’ve ever read. I know it will be the first.”

Sadly I think this would apply to most American Christians. Most have probably never even heard of the Heidelberg Catechism (HC), much less a book on it. While my own denomination holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith, we hold the HC in high esteem as an expression of Reformed Theology. Each has their strengths. One of the strengths of the HC is its pastoral tone (the Westminster is more theological in tone, thought it does express some pastoral concerns) and it’s structure. It is not structured like a systematic theology but is structured largely around the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. It uses these three as guides to instruct us in basic theology and Christian living. It was designed for children but is suitable for adults. The questions are broken into 52 sections so the whole catechism is covered in the span of a year.

“We need the gospel to remind us that we are still practicing sinners whose only hope for both eternal life and today’s blessings from God are ‘Jesus’ blood and righteousness.'” Jerry Bridges in the Foreward

The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism was taken from Kevin DeYoung’s weekly articles in the church newsletter. This is an introduction to the HC so the chapters are not long or exhaustive. Don’t mistake that for shallow or superficial. DeYoung usually does a good job of identifying the main points he must stress in a given week. He is not overly technical, so less theologically-oriented or experienced Christians can understand and benefit from what he has to say about the HC.

DeYoung properly notes that the structure of the HC is important (as does Bridges in the Foreward: guilt => grace => gratitude). He brings this up when talking about the Law. The purpose of the Law for Christians is to show us the way of gratitude, how we please God and what it looks like to become like Christ. As Israel receive the Law AFTER being redeemed from Egypt, we must remember that as Christians we have already been redeemed and do not seek to redeem ourselves by our obedience. This is not just an Old Testament idea, but as Bridges notes it is also the pattern of Romans (and Paul’s other general letters).

(more…)

Read Full Post »


The final section of The Explicit Gospel has to do with implications and applications. The majority of the section has to do with what happens if you stay on the ground or in the air too long.

“The explicit gospel holds the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air as complementary, two views of the same redemptive plan God has for the world in the work of his Son.”

Think of it as a cross country trip. If you drive it you easily get lost in the details. Especially in west Texas. Monotony can set in. The hours grind by and you lose sight of the big picture- why you are going there. You just want to get there.

If you fly, let’s say a small private plan like my friend Steve, you can’t stay in the air too long or you’ll run out of fuel. You see the big picture, but you miss out on the details. You see the expanse of canyons and mountains. But you miss the nuances of those same places.

Not the best illustration, but hopefully it helps. Unfortunately it does break down because the two modes of transportation are not as obviously complementary. They are often mutually exclusive. Too often people treat the gospel on the ground and the air as mutually exclusive instead of complementary. These are the dangers that Chandler wants to make explicit.

He begins with a discussion of slippery slopes. Most theological errors are the result of over-emphasizing something that is true at the expense of something else that is true. In trying to protect one thing, we go too far and deny something else. His goal is to encourage us to avoid this by holding both together.

“So it is not usually in the affirmation of a truth that someone goes down the slippery slope, but in the denial of corresponding truths.”

(more…)

Read Full Post »


I don’t actually go to the movies very often. Way too expensive to happen as often as when I was younger. So, I wait for the movies that beg for the big screen: action. The Avengers is one of those movies whose siren call I could not resist. And I was not disappointed.

I really wasn’t into comic books as a kid. Some of my friends were. The medium was just lost on me. Seemed too much like the children’s books. I don’t know. But I’ve always enjoyed the movies starting with the Superman series when I was a teenager. Okay, just the first two. Did they make any others?

This year will be comic book hero heaven as they wrap up the Batman series, re-boot the Spider-Man series with a darker take (why did they do this again?) and introduce The Avengers series. They have been building toward this with the 2 Iron Man movies and then both Thor and Captain America last year. Those two movies introduce some key elements to the plot of The Avengers. I only saw Captain America, but I was fully able to follow along with what was happening in The Avengers. Some of the other characters appeared in some of the Iron Man movies.

Mark Ruffalo is in there, somewhere

So, you walk into the movie having back stories on some of the Avengers. This is the third movie for Hulk, and the third actor playing him. The second was essentially a reboot of the first (and much better). Edward Norton did a great job as Hulk, but apparently fans just miss Bill and Lou because Hulk, despite his incredible strength and jumping ability can’t get off the ground as a series of movies. Enter Mark Ruffalo with his take on Hulk (this is turning into the first Batman movie series: both Kilmer and Keaton were very good, and Clooney utterly horrendous). It is almost like the other two movies didn’t exist. Mark is sort of the hippie Hulk. The laid-back genius who is supposedly angry all the time. He was better than Eric Bana, but … Apparently I am in the minority because Ruffalo has been signed to additional movies. Sadly, Edward Norton has gone the way of Val Kilmer: a great actor with a bad reputation for working well with others (rumor has it, that in Val’s case the directors probably should have listened to him more often but you know how that goes).

Hawkeye and Black Widow share a moment

(more…)

Read Full Post »


Since I have benefited greatly from Sinclair Ferguson’s ministry, I decided to read what I can find from his mentor William Still. I was given a copy of The Work of the Pastor and have been working my way through that when I have time. I recently purchased Towards Spiritual Maturity: Overcoming All the Evil in the Christian Life. I had some extra time to read so I did just that. It was worth my investment of time.

It is not a long book, being less than 100 pages. But we cannot judge the significance of a book by its size. What matters is what is found inside. This is a great little book on sanctification.

He starts with a short chapter called He is Our Peace. Sanctification necessarily starts with justification. We are sanctified because we have been justified, not so we can be justified. Still notes that the greatest blessing of the gospel is peace, he calls it the foundation stone, and top stone of our Christian experience. While in justification God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, in sanctification he imparts righteousness to us. He makes us like Jesus.

“The laws tell us what God is like. They also imply that since God is like this, holy and righteous, he desires his creatures to be like this also.”

He begins to explore the three dimensions of the work of Christ in his death upon the cross. The first is the removal of sins. Jesus must deal with our guilt and condemnation. I’ve recently come across people arguing that Jesus died for sin, not sins (trying to justify an Amyraldian view of the atonement). He must deal with both, not just one or the other (as I argued back). If he only deals with our condition, we are still guilty for our actual sins which stand between us and God. We must have peace with God, which was broken by our sins, and Christ re-establishes this in dying for our sins.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »